Conic Sections and Scripture

I taught math in high school for many years. One of my favorite topics was the study of the conic sections. Basically this is the study of several different type graphs and the equations associated with each. One of the graphs is a parabola. Technically a parabola is a collection of all the points equidistant from a fixed point and a fixed line. A general illustration of this graph is the cable between two towers on a suspension bridge. A three dimensional example is the satellite dish you may have in your yard.

One of the characteristics of the parabola is that it is symmetrical. That simply means one side is the mirror image of the other side. You could hold up a mirror in the middle of the graph and the reflection would be the other side of the graph.

If you read my blogs you know I always bring my writings to the scriptures and spiritual lessons for us. You may be thinking what does the parabola have to do with the bible? Actually there is an English word and several Greek words that are similar to this word parabola. The English word I am thinking about is parable. Before we look at this word let us consider some of the Greek words.

The Greek word parakaleo is found over 100 times in the New Testament. It is made up of 2 words, para and kaleo. Para means by the side of and kaleo means to call out. So the word parakaleo means to call out to someone to come to one’s side. This word is translated exhorted, encouraged, consoled, etc.

To have someone by your side is a source of encouragement. This is the idea behind the word parakaleo. If you have ever been in a situation where you are standing alone you know it is hard. But to have just one other person stand beside you is a great encouragement.

There are many other Greek words with a similar design. Barnabas is usually thought of as the encourager. Acts 4:36 identifies him as the son of encouragement or consolation. The word translated encouragement or consolation is paraklesis. The meaning is calling one to help. Shouldn’t we all aim to be like Barnabas?

The Apostle John uses the word parakletos 4 times in the gospel of John (John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7) and once in the book of 1 John. In the gospel account it is translated the Comforter and refers to the Holy Spirit. I am fond of the account found in 1 John 2:1. Here John writes “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We all sin (Romans 3:23) and I am thankful I have Jesus Christ advocating for me before the Father.

Now let us return to the English word parable. Perhaps we have all heard the simple definition of parable being an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The idea is an earthly illustration thrown beside of (para) the deeper meanings of the spiritual message. Many English words have this idea of para, beside of. Think about paradox, paralegal, parallel, parasite, etc.

The parabola is a curve that is made up of two halves that are mirror images of one another. Two halves that are beside one another. The parable is two stories beside one another illustrating the same truth.

If you remember your high school math you may remember the conic sections. I haven’t figured out how to tie the ellipse and hyperbola into a spiritual lesson yet. More to come….

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